Tuesday 19 May 2015

With a vivid recording, Julian Lloyd Webber and the English Chamber Orchestra bring one of the finest discs of English Music for Strings currently available on a new release from Naxos

It has recently been announced that cellist Julian Lloyd Webber www.julianlloydwebber.com  has been appointed the new Principal of the Birmingham Conservatoire. I can think of no better musician to help ensure the future of musical education in Britain, thus making his appointment the ideal choice.

Since a neck injury forced his decision to retire as a cellist it is to be hoped that this new post will give Lloyd Webber opportunities to forge a new career. However, it is not only as the Principal of the Birmingham Conservatoire that this fine musician is forging new paths.

A new release from Naxos www.naxos.com  features Julian Lloyd Webber as conductor of the English Chamber Orchestra www.englishchamberorchestra.co.uk  in a collection of English Music for Strings entitled And the Bridge is Love. This new recording includes no less than four world premiere recordings.


The strings of the English Chamber Orchestra really bite into the opening bars of Edward Elgar’s (1857-1934) Introduction and Allegro, Op. 47 (1905) before the music slows. Julian Lloyd Webber brings some particularly fine moments of hushed repose, so sensitive and thoughtful. The ECO provide a very fine string tone in some beautiful passages, offset by the most intense emotional moments. There is a beautiful care of dynamics, particularly when leading into faster passages. This is tip top string playing with terrific ensemble. Lloyd Webber pushes the music ahead with great drive before the glorious broad sweeping passages which lead towards the coda.

This is a particularly fine performance that must rank among the very best on record.

This conductor brings his fine musicianship to Elgar’s Sospiri, Op. 70 (1914) in a performance that draws the most exquisite playing from the ECO, subtly drawing moments of intensity and a richness of string texture that is really quite lovely.

Julian Lloyd Webber gives the world premiere recording of his father, William Lloyd Webber’s (1914-1982) The Moon (1950). This lovely little piece has a quintessential Englishness that fits perfectly into this programme; a lovely, subtle rise and fall with some lovely string playing.

Howard Goodall’s (b.1958) And the Bridge Is Love (2008) is another world premiere recording that gives this disc its title. This performance features Lloyd Webber as conductor and cello soloist. The title is a quotation from a Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Thornton Wilder (1897-1975) http://thorntonwilder.com and was composed in memory of a young cellist, the daughter of a close friend of the composer.

The piece opens quietly on lower strings together with harp before Lloyd Webber brings a cello melody that arises, slowly becoming firmer and supported by an increasingly richer orchestral string sound. The music moves through some lovely passages, at times very much in the English tradition yet with a contemporary feel. Lloyd Webber finds much beauty as well as some terrific little phrases for cello that add interest to the music. There is a poignant coda, especially so if this is the last recording we are likely to have from this great cellist.

Ralph Vaughan Williams’ (1872-1958) The Charterhouse Suite began life as a Suite of Six Short Pieces for Piano published in 1921before being orchestrated by James Brown in collaboration with Vaughan Williams and renamed The Charterhouse Suite, after his old school and published in 1923. Here we are given just the short Prelude. It has a buoyant, jolly theme played here with crisp precision.

A lovely rhythmic buoyancy opens the Allegro Piacevole of Elgar’s Serenade for Strings, Op.20 (1892) bringing a subtle orchestral rubato and beautifully judged tempi. There is a beautifully shaped Larghetto with Lloyd Webber again finding lovely sonorities and beautiful, natural flow. The Allegretto - Come prima brings a lovely lilt, a gentle spring to the music as well as some fine string details.

It was Frederick Delius’ (1862-1934) amanuensis, Eric Fenby, that arranged the composer’s Two Songs to be sung of a summer night on the water (1917) for wordless unaccompanied chorus as Two Aquarelles (1917/1932). Here No.1: Lento, ma non troppo is beautifully done, just the right amount of ebb and flow with lovely string sonorities. No.2: Gaily, but not quick has a nice rhythmic lift, such a fleeting nature before it rises only to fall to a lovely coda.

These two lovely miniatures are beautifully played.

Violinist, leader of the London Symphony Orchestra and friend of Elgar, W. H. (Billy) Reed arranged the composer’s Chanson De Nuit and Chanson De Matin for string orchestra in 1939. Lloyd Webber and the English Chamber Orchestra bring a calm, gentle stateliness as Chanson De Nuit, Op. 15, No. 1 (1897/1939) unfolds, before subtly allowing the music to rise, nicely shaped, beautifully phrased and wonderfully controlled. Chanson De Matin, Op. 15, No. 2 (1899/1939) is, again, beautifully shaped and phrased with fine flexible tempi.  

William Walton’s (1902-1983) Two Pieces for Strings from Henry V (1944) are taken from his music for Laurence Olivier’s film of Shakespeare’s Henry V. Passacaglia: Death of Falstaff achieves a fine, dark opening, hushed and mysterious and with a depth that is often missed. The music opens out exquisitely before the hushed coda. To follow there is a lovely Touch her soft lips and part, gentle, exquisite and finely controlled.

John Ireland (1879-1962) wrote his A Downland Suite for the National Brass Band Championships in 1932. In four sections, Ireland later arranged the second and third sections for string orchestra, Geoffrey Bush arranging the first and fourth sections. Here Julian Lloyd Webber and the English Chamber Orchestra play No.3. Minuet: Allegretto Grazioso (1942) in a lovely performance that is beautifully paced and shaped, bringing some very fine playing from the orchestra.

With a vivid recording from Watford Colosseum, Watford, England this is one of the finest discs of such repertoire available. There are informative notes from Peter Avis and Howard Goodall.

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